Music That Influenced My Novel: Grigory’s Gadget

Music has a place in pretty much every aspect of my life. I listen to music in the car, I often listen to music at work, I’m a dancer…even if I’m not actively listening to music, I’m probably singing along to something-or-other in my head. I also frequently experience musical frisson – that rush of chills you get when music gets AWESOME.

So, of course, music has a place in my writing as well.

I touched on this topic a bit back in December, but that was before Grigory’s Gadget was published, so I wanted to revisit it.

The music I listen to while actively writing is often instrumental. If there are words to a song, I’ll just wind up listening to those words instead of my story’s. Usually this music consists of soundtracks. While writing Grigory’s Gadget, I tended to listen to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks, along with a little Lord of the Rings,Game of Thrones, and Lindsey Stirling.

Along the way, I also discovered a new favorite genre of music: electro-swing! This genre takes jazz and swing songs and remixes them. This blend of old and new fits wonderfully with steampunk! My favorite album was Jazz Goes Steampunk! Electro Swing Invasion. It does break my rule about instrumental-only music while writing, but it didn’t seem to be too much of a problem. Now, if we want to be technical, the fact that most of these songs are from the 1930s would suggest they’re more appropriate for dieselpunk, not steampunk. Grigory’s Gadget already blurs those lines, what with all the communist and fascist dystopian undertones, so I still consider it appropriate!

SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned!

Grigory’s Gadget was also influenced by music when I wasn’t actively writing. Songs I hear on the radio often influence plot or characterization. For example, the song “From Finner” by Of Monsters and Men helped set the tone of the story. The chorus of the song –

We are far, far from home, but we’re so happy;
Far from home, all alone, but we’re so happy

– became a sort of mantra for my characters. The juxtaposition of the forboding sound of the song with the smattering of hopeful lyrics set the tone as well.

The song “Gangway” by Guster influenced Anya’s characterization: she’s energized by being at sea, and quickly took a liking to being a pirate.

If I could make a wish, if I could right a wrong,
If I could plot a twist we wouldn’t be here long,
I’d lean in to each turn, seeking evermotion.
Soon, the walls, the house, the sky starts shaking,
The clouds, the land, the sea,
Gangway!

By far the most influential song I listened to while writing Grigory’s Gadget was “Hero” by Family of the Year. This song actually caused me to make some characterization adjustments and major changes to the climax of the story. Namely, this is the song that led to Demyan being killed.

Let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight with everyone else

This song actually led to my discovery of foreshadowing I hadn’t realized I had planted. At the beginning of the story, the friends play a card game called Durak (Russian translation: fool) and Demyan loses. Throughout the story, Demyan is the one who is the least adaptable to their situation (getting seasick, getting frustrated by their situation, etc.). He also lacks the rebellious streak of his friends, preferring to keep his head down and do as he’s told. He doesn’t want to be a hero.

The original ending of Grigory’s Gadget saw Demyan live, and he felt like a dead weight (pun intended, sorry). I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was until I heard “Hero”. That song resonated with Demyan’s character so much. Then it clicked: I had been foreshadowing Demyan’s death this entire time! And of course, his death was an act of bravery and heroism: he helped Zoya start to come back to herself at the cost of his own life. He wasn’t a dead weight character anymore. He had done something; he saved the woman he loves and their friends.

Moral of the story – don’t underestimate the power of music! It can be lethal…

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